Ever wondered how a teeny-tiny organ like your gallbladder, located just below the liver in the upper right abdomen, can impact your health? Tiny, yes, but it has BIG effects on your body. It is a small pouch that stores a green-yellow liquid called bile that enables digestion. You end up with gallbladder stones when the cholesterol levels in the bile skyrocket.
What Causes Gallbladder Stones
According to a study done by Harvard Health Publications, cholesterol comprises almost 80 percent of gallstones. What about the other 20%? Well, it is made up of calcium salts and bilirubin.
You can’t exactly put your finger on one single cause; but yes, there some theories being bandied about gallbladder disease, some of which we’ll discuss.
- Cholesterol in your bile
Cholesterol in your bile means the accumulation of yellow cholesterol stones. These stones are found in your liver when there is more cholesterol than your bile is able to dissolve.
- There’s bilirubin in your bile
A chemical called Bilirubin is produced when your liver incinerates red blood cells. Your liver shows signs of damage because of certain blood disorders. It produces a lot of bilirubin, more than it ideally should. Gallstones form when the stones don’t know what to do with excessive bilirubin. These stones look black and brown.
- Concentrated bile in a full gallbladder
If your gallbladder has to function optimally, it should empty out the bile from time to time. Now, when the gallbladder is saturated with the bile content, it starts to concentrate and soon forms stones.
Gallbladder Symptoms – Keep a Tab on the Specific Symptoms
Shooting pains in your upper right abdomen. You may even experience pain when you eat too much of saturated fat in general and fried food in particular. The distinguishing feature of this pain is that it does not last for more than a few hours. Worried about the pain in your upper abdomen? Check out some of the other symptoms.
You may also experience:
- Dark urine
- Clay-colored stools
- Stomach pain
- Asymptomatic gallstones
Gallstones don’t always cause pain, but you feel pain when the gallstones block the path of the bile from the gallbladder. Sometimes people have no symptoms whatsoever and get diagnosed when they go for a surgery or ultrasonography for some other problem.
Yes, there is the long-term implication of the gallbladder disease. Check out the following here,
- Acute cholecystitis
A gallbladder infection and inflammation results when the stones block the duct. This type of condition is known as acute cholecystitis. In such cases, you have to be rushed to the hospital without fail.
When you suffer from acute cholecystitis, it is a case of a medical emergency. Some of the symptoms are as follows,
- Sharp pain in the upper stomach or mid-right back region
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
You need to see your doctor when the symptoms last for more than 1 to 2 hours or you have a persistent fever.
That’s not all, there are other complications too, which you need to be wary of.
- Jaundice, a condition where your skin or eyes take up a yellowish tint
- Cholecystitis, this is a gallbladder infection
- Cholangitis, this is a kind of bile duct infection
- Pancreas inflammation
- Sepsis, a blood infection
- Gallbladder cancer
Risk Factors for Gallbladder Stones
So, are you at risk for gallbladder stones? Find out here.
- Gender – If you are a woman in the 20 and 60 years age group, you are in a high-risk
- Age – People who are over 40.
- Estrogen dominance – Women who are pregnant or on HRT (hormone replacement therapy).
- Obesity – A study has shown that even being moderately overweight may increase your risk for gallstone formation.
- Ethnicity – Specific Indigenous populations have a higher chance of
- Diabetes – People who have diabetes have an increased the risk of gallstones.
- Rapid weight loss – When you lose a lot of weight in a short time, you have extra cholesterol in the bile.
- Fasting – Fasting can hinder the gallbladders ability to contract, and you have high concentrations of cholesterol in your bile.
- A high-fat diet coupled with an inactive lifestyle – this increases your chance for the formation of gallstones.
- Specific Medication – Certain medications can also lead to gallstone formation such as octreotide and ceftriaxone.
How do Gallstones lead to other Complications?
The gallbladder is linked to the liver and small intestine via a series of tubes, known as ducts. You may suffer from serious complications when the gallstones block the bile and lodge themselves in some of the ducts. These ducts follow a specific route, carrying the bile from the liver and gallbladder to the small intestine. When these gallstones get trapped, it leads to inflammation (cholecystitis) and other gallbladder problems known as cholangitis. Gallstones sometimes get trapped in the pancreatic duct and this again creates a different kind of inflammation, also known as (pancreatitis).
More on Gallbladder Symptoms – The Diagnosis
Your doctor will start on a comprehensive physical checkup that involves the checking of your eyes and skin, to see whether it has undergone any specific color change. A yellowish tint may be the first sign of jaundice. This is a result of excessive bilirubin formation in your body.
You will have to undergo several diagnostic tests and that will help the doctor gauge the problem in your body. Some of these tests are as follows,
- Blood tests: Specific blood tests measure the bilirubin in your blood. This also helps gauge and monitor the functioning of your liver.
- Ultrasound: An ultrasound is a procedure where several images are taken of your abdomen. It is one of the most accurate methods to diagnose gallstones. It may throw up other abnormalities such as acute cholecystitis.
- Abdominal CT scan: This is another method to get a more accurate image of the liver and abdominal region, it also detects any abnormal mass in your body.
- Gallbladder radionuclide scan: A long-drawn procedure, it takes almost an hour to complete. A specialist injects a radioactive substance right into your veins. The substance then travels via your blood to your liver and the gallbladder. It can reveal two important things, signs of a blockage and whether there is any blockage because of stones getting trapped into the bile ducts.
- Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP): This involves inserting a camera and X-rays to look into the problems in the bile and pancreatic ducts. This helps your doctor search for gallstones that get stuck in your bile duct.
Gallstones Treatment Options
If you have silent gallstones, or painless gallstones, you won’t require any treatment. You may even pass a gallstone without noticing, but things change when you start experiencing pain, your doctor in such cases is likely to suggest gallbladder surgery. Only in some selective cases, medication is used for gallstone treatment.
If you cannot be operated upon immediately because of some complications, you will probably find a drainage tube placed into the gallbladder via the skin. The operation will be performed only when your risk is lowered by treating the other medical conditions you may be suffering from.
Is Gallbladder Stone Surgery an Option?
Evaluating your condition, your doctor may suggest a gallbladder stone surgery or a gallbladder removal surgery via laparoscopy. This is a very common surgery and can be undertaken with the help of general anesthesia. Unlike the previous open surgeries, you won’t require a large incision in your stomach, all you would require is 3 or 4 incisions in your abdomen. Next, your doctor will insert a small, lighted device through one of the incisions and gradually remove the gallbladder.
The best part of these laparoscopic surgeries is that you don’t have to stay in the hospital for days together after the surgery. If you do not experience any complications, you can go home the very day you have been operated upon, or the next day. It all depends on the disease condition or the recovery factor. How well you recover from the surgery, or you suffer from any other health conditions which you need to stabilize.
What is the immediate repercussion of a gallbladder removal surgery? Loose or watery stools, mostly. When your gallbladder is removed, the bile has rerouted from the liver to the small intestine. Bile does not follow the route to the gallbladder and hence is not concentrated, and the result is that you experience loose stools. To stem the condition, transform your diet and stay away from fatty fried foods so that you release less bile.
Other Nonsurgical Solutions
The word ‘surgery’ immediately sends warning signals to your brain and it is not really the first option; you don’t quite say, ‘oh you have found stones in my gallbladder, and let’s just get the thing out!’ You try other less formidable options, at least you ask your doctor to suggest a few.
Unfortunately, medication isn’t a very common option for treating gallstones as surgeries are no longer as scary as they once used to be; laparoscopic surgery or keyhole robotic surgery is generally considered less risky, causes less blood loss and has a quicker recovery period. Some doctors suggest drugs like ursodiol (Actigall, Urso). This medicine dissolves gallstones that are caused by cholesterol. Medications take years to treat the condition and when you stop it, chances are you may start developing gallstones once again.
Shockwave lithotripsy is another option that your doctor may suggest for you. In this treatment, a machine (lithotripter) passes shock waves into the body of the person. The shock waves then help break down the stones.
Natural Treatment Solutions – Home Remedies
If you have gallstones but do not have symptoms, you can start making lifestyle changes. Lifestyle changes are the biggest weapon in your arsenal that can create magic if integrated into your daily life the right way. Lifestyle changes are not going for treatment and then forgetting all about it, you have to ensure that you maintain it throughout your life. Simply put, it is not an over the counter pill that you can start having and then stop when the symptoms disappear. Your health, or better still your gallbladder health is in your hands. Try following the suggestions listed below, to enhance your gallbladder health.
- Lose weight and bring your BMI closer to a normal range.
- Lose weight but don’t go for drastic weight loss transformations in a shorter span of time.
- Stick to a healthy eating plan and try and incorporate more anti-inflammatory foods into your diet plan.
- Exercise most days of the week, period.
- Take supplements as suggested by your doctor.
Some supplements that are usually suggested are iron, vitamin C, and lecithin. But don’t go for any supplementation just like that; talk to your doctor to find the right one for you and also to determine the appropriate dosage.
If you browse the web, you will find certain weird solutions, such as the likes of a gallbladder flush. Here you have to fast and then take olive oil and lemon juice to force the gallstones to pass. This treatment is not backed by science and this may even trap the gallstones in the bile duct. It does sound scary, so don’t go for something that your doctor does not approve of.
Which Foods to Avoid? A Dietary Guide for Gallbladder Problems
What you eat plays a big role in keeping you healthy. Follow the tips mentioned below to recover fast.
- Eat less fat, concentrate on the quality of the fats; choose the low-fat variety, High-fat, greasy foods are a complete no-no.
- Add more bulk to your stool by adding a whole lot of fiber. Do not eat all the fiber all at once, divide it throughout the day, one serving at a time.
- Steer clear of caffeinated drinks, sugary treats, and high-fat dairy products.
- Don’t eat three big meals a day, instead have smaller meals, the science behind this is, small meals are easier to digest. Chew your food well. This helps digest the food better.
- Consume 6-8 glasses of water every day.
- Aim to lose at the most two pounds per week. Extreme weight loss may lead to a number of health issues including gallbladder stones.
So, if you have opted for gallbladder removal surgery, the general outlook is positive; as in general the stones are not said to return. Start incorporating lifestyle changes as soon as your gallstones are detected to stop them from getting bigger and cause more problems, especially when they do not show any symptoms. Be mindful of the symptoms and rush to the doctor to undergo treatment at the earliest; the sooner you are diagnosed, the better are your chances of complete recovery. Take care!